1ADINKRA - Cultural Symbols of the Asante peopleOriginThe Adinkra symbols are believed to have their origin from Gyaman, aformer kingdom in today’s Côte D’Ivoire.According to an Asante (Ghana) legend Adinkra was the name of aking of the Gyaman (Nana kofi Adinkra). Adinkra was defeated andcaptured in a battle by the Asantes for having copied the “GoldenStool”, which represents for them absolute power and tribal cohesion.He was finally killed and his territory annexed to the kingdom ofAsante.The tradition had it that Nana Adinkra wore patterned cloth, which wasinterpreted as a way of expressing his sorrow on being taken toKumasi the capital of Asante.The Asante people around the 19thcentury then took to painting oftraditional symbols of the Gyamans onto cloth, a tradition that waswell practiced by the latter.Adinkra also means ‘goodbye’ or ‘farewell’ in Twi the language of theAkan ethnic group of which Asante is a part. It has therefore beenthe tradition of the Akan especially the Asante to wear clothsdecorated with Adinkra symbols on important occasions especially atfunerals of family relations and friends. This is to signify their sorrowand to bid farewell to the deceased.Today, the Adinkra cloth is not exclusively worn by the Asante people.It is worn by other ethnic groups in Ghana on a variety of socialgatherings and festive occasionsSymbolism/SignificanceThe Adinkra symbols express various themes that relate to the history,beliefs and philosophy of the Asante. They mostly have rich proverbialmeaning since proverbs play an important role in the Asante culture.The use of Proverbs is considered as a mark of wisdom.Other Adinkra symbols depict historical events, human behaviour andattitudes, animal behaviour, plant life forms and shapes of objects.
2In fact, the Adinkra symbols continue to change as new influencesimpact on Ghanaian culture as some of the symbols now recordspecific technological developments.The Adinkra clothThe Adinkra cloth is stamped or printed with Adinkra symbols. It isone of the few examples of traditional cloths in Africa.The Adinkra cloth was hitherto the preserve of the royalty and spiritualleaders of the Asantes. They wore it during very important sacredceremonies.Today the Adinkra cloth is used for a wide range of social activitiessuch as festivals, marriage, and naming ceremonies among others.TYPES:The 3 most important funerary Adinkra are the dark – brown(kuntunkuni) the brick – red (kobene) and the black (brisi).There are however, other forms of which cannot be properly calledmourning cloth. Their bright and light backgrounds classify them as
3Kwasiada Adinkra or Sunday Adinkra meaning fancy cloths whichcannot be suitable for funerary contents but appropriate for mostfestive occasions or even daily wear.Other uses of the Adinkra symbolsAdinkra symbols can be described as small, symbolic pictures ormotives used to decorate colourful patterned cloth by fashiondesigners in Ghana.Designers in modern times use Adinkra symbols in creating anddecorating other accessories than cloth.Other artisans/crafts men such as sculptors, carpenters, and architectsalso use the symbols to design their products.Some corporate institutions in Ghana now use the Adinkra symbols astheir institutional Symbol or Logo.Adinkra PrintingThe Asante people have developed their unique art of adinkra printing.They use two traditional printing methods; the block-stamp technique,which involves the use of wooden or metal stamps and the screen-printing.The Adinkra cloth was originally printed from hand carverd stampsfrom calabash or gourd (apakyiwa). The dye or ink (adinkra aduru)for printing is derived from the bark of the Badie and the roots of thekuntunkuni trees. The bark and roots are soaked in water for days tosoften. They are then pounded to increase the softening process. The
4Badie bark is boiled with iron scraps. When the colour (deep brown)emerges from the pulp it is sieved and engraved onto a piece ofcalabash or pot.The kuntunkuni roots are also boiled into a dark solution to dye thecloth black. The Cloth is dipped and soaked in the solution. It has to bedried several times before it turns completely black.The cloth is normally dyed in either red or black.For the red Adinkra cloth, a chemical called Sudi is used instead of thekuntunkuni root.The StampsThe various stamps carved from the calabash are tinted with dye andpressed in sequence onto plain cotton cloth, pegged on the ground.Today raised platforms with sack covering act as the printing table.
5In recent times imported cloth is used as the background of the cloth.Sometimes the various symbols are used on one fabric and this alsohas its significance.The designing is done according to the message the wearer or ownerof the cloth intends to convey to the participants of the event.The quality of the cloth also shows the status of the one wearing it.The original Adinkra cloth is not meant to be washed since it fadedeasily as a result of the natural ink used without any chemicaladditives.Today, other types of cloth are used with the same adinkra motivesbut stamped in indelible colours using the batik method.Ntonso, a town in the Ashanti Region is noted for Adinkra clothproduction. It is popularly acknowledged as the “Home of Adinkra”AESTHETIC VALUEThe several bright colours of red, yellow, white, blue etc. of theKwasiada Adinkra project the festive nature of the day. Sundays arenormally characterized by drumming and dancing, playing of “owari”and “dame” (traditional games and other exciting social and religiousactivities.In contrast to the above is the dark and dull colours of black, dark –brown and brick red which are the make-up of the “Birisi”,“Kuntunkuni” and “Kobene” cloths. Black for instance among theAsantes evokes an aesthetic response of sadness and hopelessness,The red colour is normally associated with blood and death. That iswhy during funerals Kobene in particular is worn by the closestrelatives to show how aggrieved they were and the others appear indifferent cloths Kobene is also worn during the Asantehene’s funeral orwhen there is a national calamity.The Omanhene of Abeadze of Domenase said the cloth means “oureyes are red”.
6Below is a table displaying in alphabetical order some of the old andnew Adinkra and other cultural symbols of the Akan. They have beenarranged by names in Twi, literal translation in English, significanceand proverbial meaning where available.Symbol/namein AkanLiteralmeaningSymbolicmeaning (s)ProverbialexpressionAbanFence Strength andauthority.Abe duaPalm tree WealthSelf-sufficiencyToughnessvitalityNipa nye abe dua nane ho ahyia ne ho.The human being is notlike the palm that is self-sufficient.Nnua nyinaa bewu agyaabe.All trees will wither safethe palm tree.AdinkraheneAdinkraKing.Chief of allthe Adinkradesigns;forms thebasis ofadinkraprinting.GreatnessRoyalty
7Adikrahene DuaAdinkra kingstamp.This is usedonly forprinting onthe Adinkracloth.GreatnessRoyaltyAdweraWateryshrubPurity andSanctityChastitygood fortuneConsecrationCleanlinessAdwera nsuo, wo nenkwansuo, nsukorogyenn a wohurunso wonhye.Water of life, you are thepure crystal clean waterthat boils but, does notburn.AdwoPeace. Peace/CalmnessOhene nya ahontenafopa a, ne bere so dwoWhen the king has goodcounselors, then he willhave a peaceful reign.AgyinduwuraFaithfulnessAlertnessDutifulnessAkofenaRoyal/ceremonialsword.GallantryValourBraveryAkofena kunini ko a,wobo a fena kye nosafoheneThe great warrior alwayshas a royal sword of resteven when he retiresAkobenWar HornThe sound ofAko-ben is abattle cry.Call to armsReadiness andpreparednessfor action orbattle.
8Ako-benWar Horn(anotherversion)The sound ofAko-ben is abattle cry.Call to armsReadiness andpreparednessfor action orbattle.VigilanceAkoko nanThe hen’sfeetParenthood.Care.Tenderness.Protection.Parentaladmonition isnot intended toharm the child.(Parentaldiscipline.)Akoko nan tia ba, naennkum no.The hen treads upon itschicks but it does notintend to kill them.AkomaThe heart. PatienceEnduranceLove andfaithfulnessNya AkomaTake heart.Akoma ntoasoExtension ofthe heart.UnderstandingAgreement orcharterUnity.Ananse ntontanSpider web WisdomcreativityAni bereSeriousness DiligencePerseveranceAni bere a, nso gya,anka mani abere koo.Seriousness does not showfiery eyes; else you wouldsee my face all red.
9Asase ye duruThe earthhas weight.Divinity of theearthProvidencePower/AuthorityWealthMightTumi nyina ne asaseAll power emanates fromthe earthAsase ye duru sen epoThe earth is heavier thanthe seaAyaThe fern DefianceEnduranceResourcefulnessBese sakaSack of colanutsPowerAbundanceaffluenceTogethernessand unity(agricultureand trade bringpeopletogether).Bi-nnka-bi (obinnka obi)Bite not oneanotherPeaceHarmonyCautionagainst strifeandprovocationBiribi wo soroThere issomething inthe heavens.Hope.Reliance onGod forinspiration.Nyame, biribi wo soro,na ma embeka me nsa.God, there is something inheaven, let it get to me.
10Boa me na meboa woHelp me tohelp you.InterdependenceCooperationHelping oneanotherDame-dameA boardgameIntelligenceIngenuityDonoDrum PraiseDono ntoaso (Nnonnowa)Double drum UnityConcordStrengthDuafeWoodencombFemininevirtue.Everlastinglove.DwannimmenRam’s horn ConcealmentHumility &StrengthWisdom &learningDwannini ye asisie a,ode n’akorana na…It is the hart and not thehorns that leads a ram tobully.
11EbanFence/fort orcastleRepresentingfencedhomes.ProtectionsecuritysafetyfortressEpaHandcuffs SlaveryEqualityLaw & JusticeOnii a ne pa da wonsano, na n’akoa ne woYou are a slave to the onewhose handcuffs you arewearing.Ese ne tekremaThe teethand thetongue.FriendshipinterdependenceAdvancementprogressStrength inunity.Fafanto/EsononamtamTendernessgentlenessFihankraHouse Safety /securityin a home.FawohudieFreedom FreedomLiberty
12FofooFofoo plant (a yellow-floweredplant)JealosyEnvySe die fofoo pe ne segyinantwi abo bidie.The Fofoo plant’s wish isthat the gyinantwi seedsshould turn black.FuntunmfunafuduaThetree/altar ofthefuntunfunafu. (version ofthe Siamesecrocodile)Need for unitywhen there isthe samedestinyFuntumfunafudenkyem funafu/FunntunmirekuSiamesetwincrocodilesjoined at thestomach.Democracy andonenessirrespective ofculturaldifferences.Funtumfunafudenkyemfunafu, wonafuru bom, nsoworedidi a na woreko.They share one stomachand yet they fight forgetting food.Gyawu atikoSymboldrawn byGyawu, whowas a chiefof BantamaBraveryValourFearlessnessLeadershipGye NyameExcept God. Omnipotenceand immortalityof GodHye wonnyeThat whichcannot beburntImperishabilityEndlessForgivenessToughnessHye wonnhyeHe who burns be notburned
13HwemuduaExcellenceSuperior qualityKae meRememberme.LoyaltyFaithfulnessKete paGood bed Good marriage.Love andfaithfulnessKojo baidenRays CosmosomnipresenceKontire neAkwamuState elders Reliance.Democracy.One head does not makeup councilKrado – mmrakradoSeal of lawand orderAuthority of thecourt.Law and order
14Krapa(Musuyidie)Sanctity,Pure inheart.SanctityPurity.Krapa te se okra okyirifiSanctity, like cats, abhorsfilth.Kramo boneThe Bad WarningagainsthypocrisyKramo bone ammayennhu kramo paWe cannot tell the goodfrom the bad because ofpretenceand hypocrisyKuntinkantanDo notboast.Do not befilled withpride.Need forhumility andserviceModestyKwatakye- atikoHair of theheroKwatakyeValourBraveryleadershipMakoMe ware woI shall marryyou.CommitmentWind house.House builtto standwindy andtreacherousFortitude
15Mframadan conditions.MmomudwanUnity UnityTogethernessMmra kradoSeal of lawand order.The Court’sauthority./lawand orderMmusuyideeThat whichremoves illluck or evil.Good fortuneSanctitySpiritualstrengthMpatapoReconciliation knotReconciliationPeacemakingMpuannumnkotimsofo puuaFive tufts ofhair ( atraditionalhair style )SkillfulnessPriestly officeLoyaltyAdroitnessNea onnim no suaa ohuHe who doesnot knowcan knowfromLearning.Knowledgecomes bylearning.knowledge
16Nea ope senkrofoo ye ma wono, ye saa ara mawon.Do to othersthe thingsyou wantthem to doto for you.Justice Nea ope se nkrofoo yema wo no, ye saa arama wonDo unto others what youwant others to do untoyou.Nea ope se obediheneHe whowants to beking.LeadershipNhwimu /NkyimuCrossing.The divisionsdone ontothe plaincloth beforethe stampingis done.SkillPrecisionNkuma keseThe greatokraSupremacySuperiorityNkyinkyimZigzag/twistingPlaying manyroles.(Dynamism)InitiativeToughnessAdaptabilityResolutenessObra kwan yenkyinkyimiieLife’s path is full of upsand downs; twists andturns.
17NkonsonkonsonChain links HumanrelationsUnityNkontimHair of theQueen’sservantLoyaltyServiceNnonnowa(Donno ntoasoa)Double drum ValourStrengthNserewaWealthAbundanceAffluenceNsorommaThe StarChild ofGod/child ofthe heavensReflection ofGodfaith in GodGuardianship.NssaType of handwoven-cloth/BlanketExcellenceAuthenticityGenuinenessNea onim nssa na oton’agoThe one who knows thenssa blanket is willing tobuy it even when it is old.Ntesie - MatemasieI have heardand kept it.KnowledgeWisdomNyansa bun mu ne matemasieDeep wisdom comes out oflistening and keeping whatis heard.
18Nya abotereBe patient PatiencecalmnessNyame duaAltar ofGod/tree ofGodGod’s altar inthe sky; aplace ofworship.God’spresence/protection.Nyame ntiSince godexistFor God’ssakeBy God’sgraceGod’s grace.Faith in God.Nyame nti mi nnwewuraBy god’s grace, I will noteat leaves to survive.Nyame nnwu name wuGod neverdies;therefore Ishall not die.Life after deathNyansapoWisdom knot WisdomIngenuityPatienceOdenkyem.Thecrocodile.Prudence Odenkyem da nsuo mu,nso onnhome nsuo,ohome mframaThe crocodile lives inwater but does breathe airand not water.
20Okuafo PaGood farmer HardworkEntrepreneurshipIndustryproductivityOkuafoo pa ne obi a oyensiyefoo, ono na ose :w’afuo so a, woye nenyinaa.The good and industriousfarmer says: No matterhow big your farm is youtend it all.Onyakopon aniwaGod’s eye Omnipresenceof GodOnyakopon aniwa huasumu asem biaraGod’s eye seees al secretsOnyakopon neyen ntenaMay God bewith usGod’s presenceand protectionOsidanThe builder CreativityOsram /OsraneThe moon..Patience andunderstandingOsram mmfiti prekonntwareman.It takes the moon sometime to go round theearth.Osram neNsoromaThe moonand the star.LoveFaithfulnessFondness.Owia kokroko Thegreatness ofthe sun.God has a reason forkeeping the sun at adistance.
21Owo foro adobeSnakeclimbing thepalm tree.Performing theimpossible.Excellence/valourOwuo atwedeeLadder ofdeath..Death, theultimate fate ofman.Mortal natureof man.FateOwu atwedee obaakonforo.All men shall climb theladder of deathPa gyaStriking offire.WarPempamsieReadiness Readiness/PreparednessStrength andunity.Pempamsie se, bebebreahooden ne koroye.That which will notovercomeSankofaReturn andget it.Learningfrom thepast.You can alwayscorrect yourmistakes.WisdomUsing pastexperiences tobuild thefuture.Better late thanneverSe wo were fin a wosankofa a yennkyi.It is not a taboo to returnto fetch something youforgot earlier on.
22Sankofa(alternateversion)Return andget it.Learningfrom thepast.You can alwayscorrect yourmistakes.WisdomUsing pastexperiences tobuild thefuture.Better late thanneverSe wo were fin a wosankofa a yennkyi.It is not a taboo to returnto fetch something youforgot earlier on.Sankofa duaSepowKnife used inexecutions.This isplungedthrough thethroat of thevictim’scheeks toprevent himfrominvoking acurse on theKing.JusticeSesa worubanChange yourlifeTransformationA newbeginning
23SunsumThe SoulThe Akansbelieve thatthe soul ofthe chiefreside in ayoungercourtierSpiritualityPurityEverlastingTabonPaddle Couragehard workTamfo bebreThe enemyshall suffer.JealousyTumi te se kosuaPower is likean eggDelicacy ofpolitical power,Fragility ofdemocracy,RestraintTumi te se kosua, wosomu den a, epae; na sewoanso mu yie nso a,efiri wo nsa bo famu maepaePower is as fragile as anegg, when held too tightlyit might break; if it is heldtoo loosely, it might falland break.Tuo ne AkofenaGun andState swordPowerResponsibilityAuthorityLegitimacy,Nationalsecurity &protection,Militaryprowess
24Wawa abaSeed of thewawa tree.Wawa is ahardwoodused incarving.SkillfulnessWuforo dua pa aWhen youclimb a goodtree.SupportCooperationEncouragementWuforo dua pa a na yepia woHe who climbs a good treeis encouraged/supported.Wo nsa da mu aIf you haveyour handsin the dishDemocracyPluralism
25ReferencesAbissath, M. K. & Korem, A. K. TRADITIONAL WISDOM IN AFRICANPROVERBS, 1915 Proverbs from 41 African Countries, PublishingTrends Ltd. Accra 2004.Arthur Kojo, G. F. & Rowe R., Akan Adinkra cloths, Akan CulturalSymbols Project, 1998-2001, http://www.marshall.edu/akanartGlover, A. (Prof.), Adinkra symbolism, Artiste Alliance Gallery, OmanyeHouse, Accra. Ghana. 1992.Strenna Per Gli Amici, Adinkra, Massimo Baistrocchi, Italy .2003/2004.Adinka, http://www.ghana.gov.gh/visitng/culture/adinkra.phpAsante Adinkra Cloth, Adire African Textiles,http://www.adireafricantextiles.comFacts and History, Adinkra Symbols, http://www.ghanatourism.gov.ghAdinkra Symbols of West Africa, West African Wisdom: AdinkraSymbols and meanings, Adinkra Index,http://www.weltempered.net/adinkra/htmls/adinkra_indexhtmAdinkra Symbols: A Philosophical writing System, Cornell University,http://www.library.cornell.edu/africana/Writing_Systems/Adinkra_page2.html
26Adinkra symbols,http://www.altreligion.about.com/libray/glossary/symbols/bldefsadinkra.htmAdinkra at Ntonso, The Mirror, 22 April 2006, Page 32.Compiled by:Valentina A. TettehNCC